|A Zionist leader – the founder of the Revisionist Movement and Betar, a
writer, poet, publicist and translator.|
Jabotinsky was born in Odessa, Russia (presently in the Ukraine) on October 18th, 1880. He was given a liberal education, as traditionally given under the Jewish emancipation, with little formal Jewish education. Upon his graduation he left Russia to study law in Italy and Switzerland, while serving as a correspondent in these countries for notable Russian journals. His writings – some signed under the penname “Altalena” – granted him a reputation as an accomplished writer in the Russian language.
Jabotinsky devoted himself to Zionist activity following the Kishinev Pogroms in 1903 and later. He struggled for minority rights in Russia and was elected soon thereafter as a delegate to the Sixth Zionist Congress, the last one attended by Herzl. His other activities included promoting the revival of the Hebrew language and culture.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Jabotinsky served as a military correspondent and was stationed at different fronts. In Alexandria, Egypt he met with Joseph Trumpeldor and became active in the formation of the Jewish Legion within the British Army. The first legion was installed in August 1917 and he served in it with the rank of Lieutenant, participating in battles in the Jordan Valley and in the conquest of As-Salt in Transjordan from the Turks.
During Passover 1920, Jabotinsky led the defense forces in Jerusalem. He was arrested by the British for illegal possession of weaponry and sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment and penal labor in Acre Prison. The public reaction to his sentence gained him his parole.
In 1921 he was elected as a member of the Executive of the Zionist Organization (later known as the World Zionist Organization), taking part in the establishment of “Keren Hayesod” (United Israel Appeal). Two years later he retired from the Executive in protest against the policy of Chaim Weizmann, which he felt was not doing enough to promote the prospect of a Zionist state. In 1923 he founded and headed the Betar Movement in Riga, Latvia – aimed to educate youth in a militant and national spirit. Two years later, in 1925, he formed the Revisionist Zionist Alliance and became a leading spokesman of the opposition within the Zionist Congress.
Jabotinsky settled in Eretz Yisrael in 1928, editing the daily newspaper “Doar HaYom” and conducting a variety of political activities. In 1929 he traveled abroad to hold a series of lectures, but when he tried to return, the British did not permit him entry.
In 1933, Jabotinsky concentrated most of his time on clearing the names of his fellow members of his movement who were accused of murdering Chaim Arlozoroff. The following year in London, he and David Ben-Gurion signed three documents intended to reduce the tensions between the right-wing and left-wing factions in the Yishuv and the Diaspora. Despite their mutual agreement, the documents were not approved by the members of the Zionist Organization. Jabotinsky retired from the Zionist Organization, together with his Movement, following the rejection of his demand to declare that the Zionist aspiration is the establishment of a Jewish state. He then formed the New Zionist Organization (NZO).
In 1937 Jabotinsky obliged to serve as the Supreme Commander of the Etzel, the militant branch of the Revisionist Zionist Alliance, and supported its actions against the policy of restraint towards the Arab rioters. He also expressed his objection in principle to the Partition Plan, which was presented by the Peel Commission and accepted for negotiations by the Zionist Organization.
As Chairman of the New Zionist Organization, Jabotinsky connected with foreign governments and political organizations. As head of the Betar Movement he dealt with educating Jewish youth. His three organizations – the Etzel, NZO and Betar – worked together to promote illegal immigration to Eretz Yisrael.
Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Jabotinsky warned that the Jewish people are facing destruction and called to the Diaspora Jewry to “exterminate the Diaspora before it exterminates them.” As the war broke, out he lobbied in the United States and Great Britain for establishment of a Jewish defense force to fight alongside the Allied Forces against Nazi Germany.
Jabotinsky passed away from a heart attack on August 4th 1940, during a visit to a Betar summer camp in New York. He ordered in his will that the removal of his remains for burial in Eretz Yisrael should only be executed by a Hebraic government. This was fulfilled in 1964, when Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, unlike his predecessor David Ben Gurion, ordered Jabotinsky to be brought for burial in Israel. The remains of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his wife Johanna were reinterred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
The literary legacy of Jabotinsky was published in 18 volumes during the 1950’s. More recently, his letters were published. Streets and institutions were named after him statewide.
On March 23rd 2005, the Jabotinsky Law was passed, setting a memorial day in his honor.
Jabotinsky’s writings and manuscripts, as well as all publications on him worldwide in different languages, are preserved in the Jabotinsky Institute in Tel Aviv.